Tag Archives: Holidays

Ofrendas on the Day of the Dead

Main piece:

JH: For day of the dead families usually put an altar up. In Spanish it’s known as an ofrenda. So on Day of the Dead, you put up the person’s favorite food on the altar, and it’s a really sweet occasion. We do it every year. So like, if I died I would get tamales and like boba or something, and everyone would believe that my spirit will come back to enjoy those treats. Oh, you also put a picture of the person as well as their favorite flower and a candle. 

Context: 

The informant, JH, is was born in the United States. She currently lives in Orange County and attends USC. Her parents are from Mexico. This piece was collected over a phone call, in a conversation when we were talking about family traditions.

Thoughts: 

This was a tradition I had heard of before, both from other friends and just popular culture in general. I think it’s an interesting addition that JH added that on her altar, there would be “tamales and boba” –– tamales being something more culturally similar to the celebration, and boba being something more from the specific context and era that JH grew up in. This goes to show that this celebration is something that manifests in different ways across different contexts and families, lending itself to Dundes’ folklore definition of “multiplicity and variation.”

American Halloween Parties: A Festival

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my mother/informant (ET). 

ET: I went to Catholic school growing up, and we always had All Saints Day off, which is the day after Halloween, so we’d always have big sleepovers on Halloween. You know, since no one was going to school the next day. I’ve always loved Halloween because of that, and of course my birthday is then… and it’s just a sweet holiday. Oh, and the costumes… that’s one of the best parts… But that’s how I really got started throwing Halloween parties. Then of course, I grew up and had kids- holidays are always better with kids… I loved that our house was the hub for all the neighborhood kids and their parents when everyone was done Trick-Or-Treating. I love cooking lots of food, so everyone has something real to eat that’s not candy (laughs). Even now that you guys are older… I think I’ll always throw Halloween parties. I’ve got them down to a science, you know. Like what decorations are the best… and oh! You have to carve the pumpkins the day before so they don’t go bad, but you’re not too busy the day of. 

Background:

My informant is my mother who mainly grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. Her birthday is Halloween, and she used to always tell me she “had special witch powers” because of it. To her, Halloween is the most important holiday. Every year, she begins elaborately decorating our house weeks in advance for her annual costume party that takes place Halloween Night. She doesn’t even mail invitations anymore because everyone in our community knows it’s happening. 

Context: 

I am currently in quarantine at my informant/mother’s house, and this piece was collected while we were eating dinner at the kitchen table.

Thoughts: 

I believe Halloween parties are such big celebrations in America because the holiday is simple, fun, and nostalgic. Having grown up in a home where my parents practiced different religions, I always loved that Halloween was secular, so both my parents would get really excited about it. It’s not religious, it’s American. There’s no moral to Halloween in common practice (unlike All Hallow’s Eve- the pagan holiday that Halloween was based on, which celebrates the rising of the dead). On Halloween, people are just supposed to get dressed up, have fun, and eat lots of candy (or drink lots of booze, depending on your age). The point of any party, but especially a Halloween party, is that it’s unifying. All are invited to have a shared experience. Furthermore, the fact that it is a costume party highlights this idea by letting people be anyone they want to be. You can dress in a way that’s unacceptable any other day of the year, potentially channeling your childhood dreams or wonder that you haven’t expressed in years. 

Sinter Klaas

Context:

The informant is a Dutch immigrant to the United States in his fifties. He emigrated from the Netherlands in his thirties and lives in San Francsico. He experienced this holiday tradition every year on December 5h in the town of Lochem, with a population of 10,000 people who would gather in the market square. He told me about the tradition in a face-to-face interview. I am his son and we would practice some aspects of this tradition when I was younger, before celebrating Christmas.

Text:

Sinter Klaas would come every year, early December, he would arrive on a steam ship from Spain, he looked like santa claus, but he was slimmer, not as fat, had a long white beard. He would come and he had these svaarte pieten, black petes. It was usually women who would play them, they were often athletic and do handstands. Svaarte piet would come through the chimney, you would put your shoe out in front of the chimney, put out a carrot for Sinter klaas’ white horse, you would get a present.

There were lots of inconsistencies in the story. He would also go with his horse on the roof to deliver the presents. Where I grew up there was an actual ship that would come in with people dressed up as Sinter Klaas and svaarte piet. Svaarte piet would throw candy at everyone. One was pepernoten, these baked round things with spices, you would pick them from the floor and eat them, they weren’t packaged or anything. Later you had to do these things yourself, part of it was writing poems, teasing poems, you would lay bare someone else’s hurtful or embarrassing details. The one getting the present had to read the poem aloud and the more embarrassing the better. There would be “surprises,” – not the English meaning – which were elaborate built things. My dad built a model train after the train my sister took to school, there was some present inside. It’s not just opening the present but there’s more elaborate things going on. It needed a lot of involvement on the part of the parents. I guess people had more time in those days (laughs).

The whole svaarte piet thing… at first I really thought they were black and the relation to slavery never occurred to me. When you look back at it its kind of insane, its insane that nobody thought anything of it. There was a canal, he really came by boat. We would sing sinter klaas songs. He would come into the class at school and you would sing a lot of different songs for him.

If you were bad, they would put you in a bag, hit you with a roe (a switch, a small broom) and take you to Spain.

I think it comes from Saint Nicolas, who was a saint in Spain. He cut his mantle in half and gave it to poor people.

This was THE event for kids. Everyone in the town did it though, it was a social thing. There was always a bit of a scary aspect of it, Sinter klaas and svaarte piet. If you were not good, you would be taken to Spain! They were kind of scary, there were people dressing up as them who could have been drinking or whatever. We would sing a lot of naughty songs.

Thoughts:

Sinter Klaas is a cherished Dutch holiday. This festival mobilizes so many different modalities (sight, smell, taste, sound) that it is hard to know where to start in terms of analysis. A big standout and controversy in recent years is the character Svaarte Piet. He is a black-faced, big-lipped caricature of a Spanish moor, and acts as the slave of Sinter Klaas, the white patriarch. The Netherlands was a substantial dealer in slaves during the expansion into the new world. This dehumanization happened partly by way of representations of the African as a jester, a helper, obedient, athletic, savage, primitive, and so on. This common representation seems to have seeped into the cherished tradition of Sinter Klaas and has been used as a justification for white people to don blackface and act out a caricature every winter. Interestingly and shockingly, this tradition continues today. It has recently come under flak from anti-racism groups as a representation and perpetuation of Dutch slavery and colonization. Svaarte Piet is largely, as we see in my informant’s experience, a way to normalize racist perceptions of Africans and instill in children a casual attitude of extreme otherization in the homogenous white community in which he grew up. My informant had thought the people in blackface were really black (he had not much experience with real black people) and thought of this whole ceremony as a normal, fun tradition, he reflects that “it’s insane that nobody thought anything of it.”

The festival had an immensely positive impact on the informant as a child. Much more excessive, dramatic, and embodied than Sinter Klaas’ American iteration Santa Claus – people would pilot a boat down the canal on which a tall figure dressed in royal red with a long curling white beard would throw out good wishes to the crowd – this tradition is very intricate and at times seems like the staging of an elaborate play. People write teasing poems to each other, parents set up ‘surprises’, elaborate constructions designed to shock and amaze the children, and actors traipse around the town throwing sweets to the people. Much less private and domestic than the American Santa Claus tradition, this celebration pours out into the streets, into the canals, and engages all generations in a communal, public celebration which works to articulate a notion of who the Dutch people are and how they are situated in relation to the rest of the world. The blatant otherization of the African is an integral part of the ceremony in this process of articulating the boundaries of the self.

Advent Traditions

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., who was raised as a Catholic, and grew up with many traditions for each of the Christian holidays, some religious and some not. This is her description of the season of Advent and two of the traditions she followed with her family during her childhood.

Main Piece: I remember the coming of the Advent season each year, which begins on the Sunday closest to the beginning of December, and is viewed by the Catholic Church and many other Christian churches as a time to prepare and reflect on the religious meaning of Christmas. The Advent period includes the four Sundays before Christmas, plus all of the days in between and up to Christmas Day. Our church sermons during this season all focused on readings from the Bible about the preparation for the arrival of Jesus, and we also would sing special hymns during this period. The one I remember in particular is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Catholics, including our family, would fast and not eat meat on Fridays during this period, we used to have a lot of tuna fish sandwiches or fish sticks for dinner on those Fridays, which I wasn’t a fan of. As a child, I remember there being a huge Advent Wreath in our church up by the altar throughout the Advent season. The Advent Wreath was made of various types of evergreen branches, and had four large candles set in its branches, three of them were purple and one was pink. The wreath symbolizes life, and the circular shape of the wreath symbolizes eternity and the everlasting life of the soul. One of the four candles is lit on the first Sunday, and then on every other Sunday during Advent, one more of the candles is lit, so by the fourth Sunday before Christmas, all four are lit. The purple color for three of the candles represents the liturgical color of violet, which signifies a time for prayer and sacrifice, and the pink color for the other candle represents joy, as rose is the liturgical color for joy. The first candle lit is purple and represents hope. The second candle lit is also purple and represents faith. The third candle lit is the pink one which represents joy. And, the last purple candle lit symbolizes peace. We also used to make our own Advent Wreath for our home. My mother would make the wreath out of fresh evergreen branches and wire them into a circular shape, and then place the candles, three purple and one pink, into the wreath. We would keep it on our dinner table all throughout Advent, following the tradition of lighting each new candle on the appropriate Sunday. And, every night of the week, not just Sundays, the one, two, three, or four candles, depending on which week it was, would be lit before dinner and we’d have our dinner meal around the table with our candlelit Advent Wreath. The other Advent tradition I remember is that we would have an Advent calendar every December. This was basically a large free-standing form made out of heavy card stock paper and decorated with some overall Christmas motif, religious or non-religious, with doors numbered one through twenty-five. Every day in December, we would open the numbered door with the proper date, and inside each door there was a holiday scene of some sort, for example, a star, or a decorated Christmas tree, or an ornament, or a shepherd, or an angel, or Santa Claus, or holly, or a gingerbread boy, and on the 25th, we’d open the last door, which always had a traditional religious Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Now, I still have something similar to an Advent calendar that I bring out every December, but it isn’t religious. It’s a small red table-top cabinet of drawers, and each is numbered 1-25. The number one drawer has a collapsible little artificial Christmas tree that I set up on the kitchen counter, the number two drawer has a garland of tiny red ornaments to string on the tree, and the remaining drawers up to twenty five have a variety of small and whimsical ornaments to hang on the tiny tree- a candy cane, holly and berries, a snowman face, a santa head, a red mitten, a tiny gift, a santa suit, all made from things like beads and felt, bells and tiny white styrofoam balls. I love opening each drawer day by day and decorating the tiny whimsical Christmas tree. It brings me back to all of the childhood memories of anticipating Christmas and the joy and magic of the holiday.”


Analysis: “Advent” is defined as the awaiting of the arrival of a notable person, event, or thing. Originally, advent calendars were created to count down the days until the arrival of Jesus Christ, as Christmas is his day of birth. However, it seems as if the religious importance of both advent calendars and Christmas has been somewhat lost. Christmas is now much more commercialized and seen as a time to eat sweets and receive and give gifts in American culture. Santa Claus is a much more prominent figure during Christmas than Jesus is now.

Chinese New year

Context: XZ is a 25 year old from Wuhan China. She is a graduate, international student at USC studying marketing and communications. She is also my friend and coworker. I decided to call her and ask her how she and her family celebrate New years. 

YM: Tell me about your new years

XZ: Our new year is lunar New Years

YM: What do you guys do for new years? How do you guys celebrate ? 

XZ: The “year” in Chinese is actually a monster, so on New year eve, the family will gather around, the elder will give children a red envelope with money because that money is called “ya sui qian” meaning: suppress evil; and when the new year come, every family will shoot off firecrackers to scare the “year” monster away

YM: that’s interesting.. Where did this monster come from ? 

XZ: So some say it came from deep sea and the others say it lives inside the mountain

YM: when do you guys celebrate again?

XZ: our official celebration starts from Lunar new year eve and will last until Lunar year’s January 15th

YM: Do you believe in this monster, what are your personal thoughts? 

XZ: Personally I don’t believe it, and most of Chinese don’t believe it. Maybe little kids will…like western kids believe in Santa. But all the traditions are around the story, and I love the family getting together and applying those customs makes me feel a sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart. Although the government  has banned firecracker because it causes to much air pollution and sound pollution, which I actually agree with it… and I believe receiving red envelope is all kids favourite part, friends sometimes compete with each other to see who received the most of money

YM: aww that’s really nice, thank you for sharing 

Background info: XZ has celebrated Chinese New Years since she was a child, and even now that she’s been far away from home she still celebrates. She’s from Yiyang in Hunan Province, China. 

Analysis: XZ’s new year seems to be based on a Chinese legend about a monster named Nian who would terrify the villagers and eat children at the end of the lunar year. The new year’s celebration seems to be about defeating this monster and starting a new year free of a ferocious monster. This legend seems to bring a symbolic meaning for chinese new year, like XZ mentioned for her its a “sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart.” From my research in the story when an old man got rid of the monster, red papers, firecrackers, and candles were found. This is why new years are celebrated with red envelopes and the firecrackers. I find it really interesting how in Chinese culture new year one celebrates the defeat of something that was bringing calamity to the land, whereas American new year one celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. One is based on a legend and the other is based on a religious myth. 

Dia de Los Muertos Alter

Interviewer: So you were saying about Dia de Los Muertes?

SR: Yeah so Dia de Los Muertes is like a special thing for my family and I didn’t really know about it until I was 13. I think I turned 13 when someone in my family had recently past away and they were like “oh, let’s start this tradition again.” We had made the alter, “La Obra” that when we put like the pictues of like our dead one and like the belief about it is that you get to spend that one day with them and like their spirit comes and spends a moment in our home. It is kind of like comforting thing as they are like beign in the other world. I guess it is also guiding them in a way too. I heard that you put a glass of water out. It is for like their long trip walking and it is, you know stuff like that. Giving them and offering them and offering them the things they like here on earth. And it could be like traditionally like a shot of tequilla or a ban de muerto which is very traditional and then like their favorite food which could be like pozole or tacos honestly, but we keep those out because our belief is that they actually do come into our household or wherever the alter may be and they spend that moment with us here on earth. 

Interviewer: So do you only do it for those who have recently died? 

SR: No, we do it for everybody. So I have I want to say my great, great, great grandpa and from that generation on, like people we have pictures for. It could be anybody.

Interviewer: And who taught you about it and showed you how to do it?

SR: My mom, yeah I think my mom. It is because my grandpa is buried in Sacramento and since we live in {somewhere in Southern California}it is like a long trip right so they only way she feels connected to him for that one day. 

Context

SR is a 20 year old student who attends college of the canyons in Santa Clarita. This conversation took place over a casual FaceTime call when I asked her is she had any folklore I could use for the database. She comes from a Catholic Mexican household and has lived in Southern California her whole life. 

Analysis

This excerpt shows the connection Dia de Los Muertos offers to the people that practice it with their loved ones that have passed away. The tradition in SR’s household was not brought back until there was a more recent death and was a desire to connect with them. Despite being focused on keeping the connection with a more recently deceased family members there is an emphasis on including all the people you can. Her great, great, great grandfather is someone she would never have met, but still earned his place on her alter simply by being a part of her family. Thus, showing the importance of family in Mexican culture and seeing the value in staying connected with your anscestors after they have passed on. Additionally, doing it for much older members of your family better ensure that those that come after you will do the same for you long after you are gone. 

Jumping Three Times at Midnight on New Years

Piece

AM: If you jump three times at midnight [on New Years] you’ll get taller. That’s what my grandparents tell me when I was little. 

Interviewer: Did you do it?

AM: Yeah, but did I get taller. No! I’m 5’2 still. It was just on New Years when it hits 12:00am.

Interviewer: Is this a cultural thing?

AM: Um, I think it is because that is what a lot of like old Filipinos would say when I was little 

Context

AM is a childhood friend of mine and we were having a causal chat on Facetime when I asked her if she had any folklore to share with the database. She is a 20 year old student at Cal Poly Pomona. Her family is from the Philippines, but she has lived in Southern California all her life. She comes from a Catholic household and went to a private catholic school for elementary and middle school.  

Analysis: 

Rituals done on New Year’s Day often represent our desires and hopes for the coming year. Midnight on New Years’s is the most liminal time of year where you might be able to break the natural rules and use that to your advantage and change something about yourself in a way that would not be possible any other time of the year. 

Also, three is a sacred number in Christianity, which is likely why it was chosen for the number of spins as many people in the Philippines and members of AM’s family are Catholic. The role of belief also plays a major part in the transmission of the custom. It was the older generation that enforced the practice and believed in it to a greater extent. AM was only following what was told to her by her grandparents. However, she did not continue the practice and will likely not encourage her children to take part in it as she does not believe in it.  

Indian Holiday of Karva Chauth

NA: Ok so there is this holiday called Karva Chauth and you have to fast for your husband’s long life all day until you see the moon and then you have to do this weird thing and nobody knows why you do this but like you take a flour sifter and you hold it up to the moon at the end of the day before you break your fast. Nobody knows why the hell you do this, but you have to hold it up to the moon. When you do that, you do it at night, and once you do that you can break the fast.

Interviewer: Okay, and who participates in this?

NA: So it’s is only women and it can be like women that are married, like I can do it for my future husband like I don’t even have to know him. It is just for the long life of my husband. My grandma did it, so my maternal grandma stopped doing it after her husband passed away and my other grandma when her husband passed away she did it for my dad, so she did it for her son. It’s just women and then some men will do it for my long life so I’ll fast with them, um but otherwise men don’t have to do it. They really don’t have to show up until the end of the night when you do that flour sifting thing.

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family India. She grew up in southern California, but is very conencted with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about any folklore she had relating to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime. For further context related to this story she is a single woman who has never been married. 

Thoughts

This holiday emphasizes the importance of the woman’s role as a wife and mother in Indian culture. Although it is not unique to Indian culture, it shows the importance of the role of women while men do not have the same obligation as a husband to bless their wives in the same way. It also shows the power of rituals. NA and her family perform the ritual because they believe in its power. However, that does not mean they know exactly why the particulars of the rituals are there. Thus, showing the level of trust in what has been passed down through the generations and how that can be effective without knowing why. 

Additionally, this ritual shows the connection between femininity and the moon that is seen in many cultures around the world. It seems as though women are using their connection with the moon to bless their husbands, demonstrating the power of that connection. Fasting also is a common symbol of religious observance in the Hindu faith with many religious holidays involving a fast, and many Hindu’s fasting on particular days of the week to show reverence towards the corresponding god. 

Sweeping Good Luck Away– Filipino custom

Piece:

Informant: If, ah– let’s say you’re sweeping at night, and you have your, y’know.. So if you sweep at night, don’t sweep the dirt, the– y’know, the dirt out on the door. It’s, ah, bad, bad luck.

Collector: If you sweep it out the door?

Informant: Out the door. So it has to be–you can sweep, but y’know– the door is closed, and you just sweep and get all the, y’know, 

Collector: Get all the dust out?

Informant: But not to sweep–yeah.

Collector: So you’re supposed to sweep it into a pan and then take it outside?

Informant:Yeah, oh no, well, you just sweep–just not the door.

Collector: Do you know why?

Informant: Yeah, y’know, it’s same thing, it’s– no good [laughs].

Context: The informant is the mother of a close friend of mine, and is an immigrant from the Philippines, specifically Cavite City, which is about an hour away from Manila. She has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, while still maintaining close connections with her home country. 

Analysis: By sweeping the dust out of the door, one might inadvertently sweep the good luck out of the house. When asked, she reported that she had heard about the custom from other housewives in the Philippines. I have heard similar sayings in Jewish culture, though I cannot recall anything specific. As I did with my previous piece, I looked up “sweeping dirt out door” online, to better gauge who participated in this belief. This time, the results were varied; Though there were still many posts that labeled it a strictly Filipino custom (i.e. “You know you’re Filipino When..”), many seemed to consider it a general housewife belief. In this case, it seems as if this particular ritual can be seen in many different cultures.

Nowruz

Context: I was sitting at a restaurant in West Hollywood with a good friend who is also of Persian descent, discussing our respective families plans of celebrating the Persian New Year. In the piece, my informant is identified as R.M. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: My family is one that has assimilated more towards American culture, and does not perform all traditional rituals performed on Nowruz. However, R.M. and her family take the New Year very seriously, and plan large gatherings for the holiday every year.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “So what are you guys doing tomorrow night”

RM: “My mom is going all out as usual. We’re having like 60 people over, I have to help her set up all day tomorrow”

DS: “What do you guys even do? Jumping over the fire and all that?”

RM: “Oh yeah, there’s definitely going to be a bonfire. She bought a bunch of goldfish too, setting up that whole haft table and all.”

DS: “What else goes on the table?”

RM: “A bunch of spices, a mirror, the goldfish, some money, fruits, eggs. There’s definitely some more that I’m forgetting but you get the idea of it.”

DS: “Are you going to jump over the fire this year”

RM: “I think so, I don’t know, I always just get so nervous getting close to it every year but my parents say it’s important so I want to try it out.”

 

Analysis: Each aspect of the setting traditions of the New Year are for specific metaphorical purposes. For example, jumping over the bonfire is thought to ensure good health for the new year. The mirror is to reflect on the past year. The goldfish is to represent new life and rebirth. The money is to encourage prosperity. The eggs for fertility. Each family often celebrates and prepares differently, with each component on their table representing what they want to attract in the year to come. The Persian culture is very poetic and spiritual, so it comes as no surprise that the culture chooses certain items for these grand representations.